Bourdais hopes first LBGP win not his last
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Sebastien Bourdais was amazed when he drove past Paul Tracy for the lead with relative ease in Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Bourdais, coming out of the pits two laps after Tracy's first stop, noted that passing Tracy anytime is "usually a handful,'' but on the streets of Long Beach, where Tracy had won the last two races and four overall, and with cold tires, "it's really tough.
"My crew was surprised I was able to get by PT like that and I was, too. I came on the radio and said, 'How about that!' It was really surprising.''
Tracy, who finished second, shrugged off Bourdais' strong move on the 38th of 81 laps, saying, "As you can imagine, my reaction was the opposite.''
But Tracy pointed out he was just going along with the new Champ Car World Series edict prohibiting blocking.
"The rules are very clear on blocking,'' Tracy explained. "In the past you'd see guys weaving and moving and, if you tried to pass for the lead, you'd wind up crashing. Today, we had three clean passes for the lead and that's good for the sport.''
Tracy tried hard to make a race of it after the pass, but this one belonged to Bourdais, the reigning series champion, who gave his Newman/Haas Racing teams its first Long Beach victory in 19 years.
The last time the team co-owned by Chicago businessman Carl Haas and actor Paul Newman won America's longest running downtown street race was in 1987, when now-retired Mario Andretti finished first and Bourdais was 8 years old.
And it could be the last time the Champ Cars, which replaced Formula One here in 1984, race at Long Beach. This is the final year of the contract and Long Beach officials are considering replacing the Champ Cars with the rival Indy Racing League in 2006.
"We want to be back here next year,'' Bourdais said as he celebrated the 11th victory of his career. "The fans here saw great racing today and we want to come back and do that for them again.''
Bourdais started fourth, but came out of the first series of pit stops second to Tracy. Once he got past the Canadian driver, Bourdais built a pair of leads of more than 5.5 seconds, both erased by full-course caution flags. Tracy was unable to take advantage of those opportunities.
The two leaders made their final stops on lap 61 and Bourdais easily beat Tracy's Forsythe Racing entry back onto the track. After Jimmy Vasser and rookie Andrew Ranger, both driving a different pit strategy, made their final stops on lap 70, that put Bourdais and Tracy back on top, with the Frenchman leading by 7.6 seconds.
When rookie Bjorn Wirdheim bumped Ranger into a tire wall on lap 72, bringing out the fourth and final caution of the day, Tracy had one more shot at the leader. But it was no contest.
He got held up slightly by the lapped car of rookie Marcus Marshall, who drove into the pits moments before the restart. By the time Tracy got up to speed, Bourdais was long gone.
Bourdais, who won seven of 14 races last year, took the green flag on lap 76 and, while Tracy briefly fought off a challenge for second by Bruno Junqueira, the other Newman/Haas driver, Bourdais easily pulled away.
"That was really the only legitimate shot I had to get by Sebastien,'' Tracy said. "But that would have been really hard and I don't think I would have outraced him at that point.
"I had a good first stint, but my car didn't seem to improve from there. The track got better as the race went along and the other guys improved, but I was driving as hard as I could and my pace never seemed to change.''
Bourdais finished 4.138 seconds ahead of Tracy, nearly the length of the entire main straightaway on the 1.968-mile street circuit. He led a race-high 37 laps.
"I did everything I could,'' Tracy said. "I've done a lot of races here at Long Beach and had a lot of success, but this is one of the hardest races I've ever had.''
Echoing Bourdais, Tracy said, "It would be a real shame if we're not back next year.''
Junqueira finished third, followed by Justin Wilson, Tracy's new teammate Mario Dominguez, and a pair of rookies, Timo Glock and Ronnie Bremer.
Junqueira, who has now finished third, second and third in his last three starts at Long Beach, started from the outside of the front row and took advantage of an early mistake by Tracy to briefly take the lead on the third lap. But Tracy got it back on a restart eight laps later.
"We just couldn't get back up there to the leaders because of some yellow flags and traffic,'' Junqueira said. "But Sebastien getting a win for Newman/Haas is a good way to start the season.''
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press